It was late on a mid-July afternoon when we pulled off the North Fork just past Polebridge. An encroaching afternoon thunderstorm that had been on our heels for the last hour had finally come too close for comfort, and our group of high school youth paddled hard to shore. In the back of all of our minds as FLBC wilderness counselors and raft guides was lingering fear: would we make it to our campsite on time? How close would the storm get? Would the rain jackets our campers brought keep them dry?
With rafts securely ashore, we set off into the brush underneath some tall spruce trees to seek dry shelter and avoid the river. As we waded through willows and cottonwood saplings, I heard a sudden exclamation: “RASPBERRIES!” Jackie Sendberg, fellow guide, had stumbled upon several bushes heavy with ripe fruit. What had been a moment of fear and uncertainty changed in an instant to joy and laughter. We filled water bottles with raspberries and revelled in finding the juiciest, biggest ones as the thunderstorm passed by overhead. Soon enough, we were back on the river, the sun drying us off as we drifted onward to our campsite.
This coming Sunday, the readings from scripture are united by themes of water and wilderness. Isaiah 35:6 says “…waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” In the season of Advent, as we anticipate the birth of the Messiah, we are called to hold patience close. If Jesus is our water in the wilderness, Advent must be a season of thirst.
Raft guides at FLBC might not understand thirst quite as well as the counselors who served as backpacking guides at camp; backpackers don’t have the luxury of carrying huge jugs of water with them as they travel. Instead, those hiking through the wilderness must stop and filter water into their bottles, using pump filters operated by hand. Every backpacking guide knows the anticipation of a full bottle of water at the end of a filtering session. At the same time, filtering water offers moments of quiet meditation at the edge of a body of water. I’ve seen countless fish, deer, birds, and sunsets while filtering water.
How sweet those raspberries taste, how refreshing those sips of water. Yet, we often forget the doubt, the struggle, the waiting, the stillness. Enduring the thunderstorm times, the parched wilderness times in our lives is difficult, but these are holy moments too. These are spaces where we find clarity and must reconcile with exactly where we are. We are given the opportunity to take stock and reckon with darkness.
As we venture forth in this season of reckoning, be steadfast, take heart, have patience, feel your feelings. There are surprise raspberries ahead, and the cool waters we thirst for. But for now, we are exactly where we must be, and God is with us here.
Colter Murphy serves Faith Lutheran Church in Chico, CA as Director of Youth and Service. He served on summer staff at FLBC from 2014 to 2017. The North Fork of the Flathead River is, without a doubt, his favorite body of water.